Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader: How Godly Leaders Handle Prosperity and Promotion (Neh 5:14-19)
October 30, 2015
How Godly Leaders Handle Prosperity and Promotion
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
How should godly leaders handle prosperity and promotion?
When we look at Christendom, we often find two extremes on the issue of wealth. We have those who look at Christ’s commands to leave all and follow him. They see a poor savior, disciples who gave up their jobs and careers to follow Christ, and they would advocate living on the bare necessities. In fact, in the middle ages, Christians were encouraged to take a vow of poverty and enter the monastery as they followed Christ.
Today, we also have the other extreme in the prosperity gospel. They would look at God’s covenant with Israel in the Old Testament where God promised them wealth and health if they were obedient, and sickness, poverty, and curses if they sinned. They would say that because Christ took our curse, we all are called to be rich, wealthy, and healthy. Both of these views are wrong. However, as we look at Nehemiah, we find a balanced model of how Christians should handle prosperity and promotion.
In the book of Nehemiah, Israel had previously been judged by God and was no longer really a nation. They had been taken as captives to Babylon and scattered to other nations. During the days of Nehemiah, only a small remnant who had returned from captivity was dwelling in the land, and they didn’t even have walls around the capital city, leaving them open for constant attacks.
Nehemiah left his job as cupbearer to the king of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and bring revival in Israel. He does this under distress and attack from both outside and inside. At this point in the narrative, the wall is not finished, but Nehemiah takes a moment in his diary to talk about his time as governor. At some point while serving Israel, he was promoted to governor for at least 12 years (cf. Neh 5:14), and he shares how he handled the promotion and the new prosperity.
This is very important to us, not only because of the doctrinal division amongst Christians on the believer’s relationship to wealth, but also because of the dangers of wealth. Listen to these two quotes:
Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish historian, once wrote, “Adversity is hard on a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”[i]
Charles Swindoll said something similar:
Few people can live in the lap of luxury and maintain their spiritual, emotional, and moral equilibrium. Sudden elevation often disturbs balance, which leads to pride and a sense of self-sufficiency—and then, a fall. It's ironic, but more of us can hang tough through a demotion than through a promotion. And it is at this level a godly leader shows himself or herself strong. The right kind of leaders, when promoted, know how to handle the honor.[ii]
The question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we prepared to handle promotion and prosperity?” Prosperity has destroyed many in the church. Scripture demonstrates this truth very clearly. We saw this in the history of Israel. Before Israel entered the promised land, which was dripping with milk and honey, God said this through Moses:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
This is the very thing that happened to Israel. It was when they were not being persecuted, when they were not in war; in fact, it was at the height of their prosperity that they fell away from God the farthest. We saw this with Solomon. Solomon was the wisest king ever and probably one of the wealthiest; however, when there was prosperity and peace all around, he began to worship the gods of his wives and led Israel away from God. It was because of Solomon that the kingdom of Israel divided.
Solomon fell in prosperity and so did his father, David. When things were going well in Israel, David counted his army with pride and God judged him for it (2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21). He also used his power to take another man’s wife. He misused his prosperity.
Well, how then should we handle prosperity? The wisest man on the earth failed the test of prosperity. The man after God’s own heart failed it before that. How do we escape its dangers?
Often in churches, we teach a great deal on trials and God’s redemptive purposes in them, but we don’t hear much about how to properly handle success and wealth. Scripture talks often about the dangers of wealth and prosperity. With money specifically, Christ speaks about it more than heaven and hell.
What are Nehemiah’s secrets to being right towards God, even in the midst of success and promotion? How can we protect ourselves from the dangers that come with wealth and prosperity? In this study, we will see eight leadership principles about handling prosperity and promotion.
Big Question: How did Nehemiah respond to his promotion as governor of Israel? What can we learn about how a godly leader handles prosperity and promotion?
Godly Leaders Must Consider Accepting Prosperity and Promotion as from the Lord
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years
Before we consider how to protect ourselves from the dangers, it must first be said that Christians must be willing to consider accepting prosperity and promotion as from the Lord. Again, we see that Nehemiah came to Israel with the best intentions to honor God by helping Israel rebuild the wall; however, when presented with the opportunity to become governor, he didn’t turn it down. He accepted it.
Often in the church, Christians tend to not seek the Lord for success, promotion, or leadership positions, whether in school, work, or government. Sometimes, it’s even looked at as “unspiritual” or “worldly” to pursue or accept such things.
However, it must be understood that Scripture teaches that promotion is a gift from God. Consider what Asaph said in Psalm 75:5-6:
Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck.’” No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
Asaph said that exaltation comes from the Lord. The word “exalt” means to “increase.” Increase comes from God; it is not a bad thing. Often times in conservative, Bible preaching churches, we hit hard on the “prosperity camps” and for good reason. However, there is some truth to the view, though it has been taken to an unbiblical extreme.
I believe Scripture would support the fact that it is OK and good for Christians to seek the Lord for promotion—to seek the Lord for success—for the purpose of spreading his kingdom and his fame. One person in Scripture prayed an extremely, dangerous prayer to be blessed and prospered by God and his name was Jabez. Does anybody remember Jabez? Let’s listen to his prayer:
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
1 Chronicles 4:10
Jabez prayed for God to enlarge his territory, for God to expand his influence. We even see something similar in the messiah’s prayer as predicted in the Psalms. Look at what God said to Jesus: ‘“You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:7-8).
He said to the messiah, “Ask for the nations and I will give it to you.” I heard this about the founder of the Navigators which is a Christian organization that focuses on Bible memory: the founder prayed to God with his hand on the globe, asking to be used, and now that ministry spans the entire globe.
I would say that part of the reason so many churches and Christians are so ineffective is because their prayers, and therefore, their faith is so small. They are not willing to pray dangerous prayers for God to use and expand their territory. “God open the doors for this church.” “Lord give me the youth. I want to be used in a special way to reach the youth of my nation.” “Lord give me Korea; use me to expand your kingdom here in a special way.” The book of James says this: “You have not because you ask not” (4:2).
Let us remember that in the same way God exalted Nehemiah, God exalted Joseph to second in command in Egypt so he could save many souls (Gen 50:20). He exalted Daniel to demonstrate the glory of God in the idolatrous kingdom of Babylon. Proverbs says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2 KJV).
The world is looking for righteous people to reign, to be in authority, and to serve. The first thing we must learn from Nehemiah is our need to consider accepting promotion and prosperity, which also implies a challenge to broaden our prayers and our faith.
Now with this said, let me add a disclaimer. Satan can promote people as well. Satan showed up to Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9 and said, “I will give you the nations if you bow down to me” (paraphrase). The enemy often offers promotion in order to fulfill his ungodly agenda, and therefore, we must be careful. Promotion that causes us to neglect serving God, our family, and the church is not of God.
Listen, God made you a part of his body, and you have a very specific role as a part of it. We must consider the church and our role in it. I’m leery of jobs that will keep one out of worship or demand so much that one can’t faithfully serve God.
Moreover, promotion that causes a person to neglect his family is also not of God. Many godly men have turned down promotion or exaltation because it would take them away from their children and their wives. Too many marriages and families are destroyed at the altar of promotion.
Nehemiah teaches us that godly leaders must consider the possibility of accepting a promotion. Nehemiah, Daniel, Joseph, and David were promoted so that they could have more impact for God’s kingdom. And, therefore, we must consider it as well.
Next, we will consider how to handle it when God does bring us prosperity and promotion.
Application Question: In what ways are you seeking for the Lord to expand your territory and ministry so you can affect more people? Are you afraid to pray these types of prayers? Why or why not?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Often Give Up Their Privileges to Not Hinder the Work of God
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor….Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
Nehemiah 5:14, 16
What do we learn next from Nehemiah?
Promotion often comes with many perks that could destroy a person. What types of perks? It often means allowances: greater money, benefits, and sometimes even more privacy. Often those in leadership have an amount of freedom that those not in management do not have. How did Nehemiah handle the privileges given to him?
We see that Nehemiah chose to not take advantage of some of his rights, such as the food allotment (v. 14) and the right to purchase land (v.16). The people were in poverty, and he could have easily purchased great amounts of land which wouldn’t have been a sin. However, he gave up his rights to do this.
Interpretation Question: Why did Nehemiah choose to not take advantage of the rights of food and property when it was not wrong to do so?
It seems that he chose to relinquish his rights in order to not hinder his ministry. We see something similar in the life of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9, he says that he chose to give up his right to receive pay from the church (v.12). Why? Certainly, Jesus taught he who preaches the gospel should live by the gospel (1 Cor 9:14). And similarly, the rest of Scripture teaches that pastors have a right to be paid (1 Tim 5:17). Listen to the reason Paul gives:
If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:12
He gave up his right so that it would not hinder his ministry. In Greek culture, there were many paid “orators” and many of them were greedy, doing it just to get money and not caring about the people. He chose to not take any chances of being associated with the “hirelings” and potentially hinder the gospel of Christ.
No doubt, Nehemiah did not want to hinder his opportunity to serve through taking advantage of his privileges, which included the food allowance and the opportunity to purchase property. The previous governors had overburdened the people (v. 15), and he did not want to be associated with them. How could he feast off their taxes when everybody else was poor? How could he buy up their land while they were going bankrupt? Would not using his privileges cause people to question his motives and possibly bring dishonor to God? He would have been perceived as a hireling instead of a good shepherd.
In the same way, God might want you to give up some rights in order to not hinder your ministry in serving him. Romans 14:21 says this: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
See many, especially young Christians, only ask themselves, “Is this wrong?” “Is it wrong for me to drink alcohol?” “Is it OK for me to smoke?” “Is it wrong for me to kiss my girlfriend?” It may not necessarily be wrong, but one may need to ask more questions.
Application Question: What are some good questions to ask in considering our privileges and freedoms?
1. “Could this potentially harm others or my ministry?”
Many things are not bad in themselves, but we must weigh their value based on how they could potentially affect others. Again, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:21).
2. “Will this edify me and others?”
See some things that we do are not clearly sin, but they may not be good either. They don’t help us or others. We need to choose what is “best” and not simply what is “OK” or “good.” Paul said, ‘“Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Is it constructive? Will it help me and others?
3. “Could this potentially master me or make me addicted?”
Consider what Paul says again: ‘“Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
One of the many dangers that comes with prosperity is the possibility of being mastered or overcome by them. Many things that are not sin such as: riches, alcohol, cigarettes, Facebook, popularity, approval, video games, movies, Internet, etc., have the possibility of mastering us and making us sin against God.
We live in a wealthy society that has many privileges that others do not have. But, we also live in a society of addictions, in part because of these privileges. In the U.S., people are seeking insurance to cover addictions to video games. I had a student fail out of his freshman year of college because he was playing video games all day. The wealth we have is not sin; the privileges we have access to are not wrong. But we must ask ourselves, “Could this cause harm? Will this edify me or others? Could this privilege master me?” Most people don’t ask themselves these questions.
Many Christians are unprofitable for the kingdom because they are addicted to their phones, addicted to the Internet, addicted to money, and for many the resulting consequences are neglecting God and even sometimes family. Yes, privileges have the ability of mastering us, and we must be careful of this possibility. Addiction is simply another form of idolatry—it is sin. It’s a form of mastery, and only God should be our master.
When I was single, I wouldn’t own the Internet, and I wouldn’t own cable either because I was afraid of being mastered by them. I am compulsive. Whatever I do, I’m typically consumed with and passionate about. Because of that, as a young Christian, I had to choose to let go of some privileges that I wasn’t prepared to be disciplined with.
No doubt, when Nehemiah looked at all the food that was allotted to him as governor, he felt like it would not be beneficial. It was not wrong. Certainly, he had earned it, but he probably realized that it was not beneficial. It could hinder his ministry.
Feasting and buying up property while everybody was poor would have probably hindered his leadership as well. I have seen many people who don’t want to come to church because the pastor is “flaunting” the finest clothes and the nicest car, and, even though this pastor may not be in sin, it opened a door for the enemy to accuse him.
That is why Paul gave up his right to receive money while serving in Corinth and many other privileges. And that is why Nehemiah did as well.
In what ways has God called you to give up your privileges that may come with prosperity or promotion? Are you addicted to anything? Are there some things you are doing with your freedom that are causing or could cause others to stumble? If so, God may be calling you to give up those things.
This is an important discipline that must come with prosperity. We must give up our rights in some areas in order to not hinder our growth or ministry.
Application Question: What privileges or rights do you have to be careful of in order to be most effective in your ministry?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Avoid Abusing Their Authority and also Be Willing to Bring Reform
But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
What do we see next? It seems clear that when Nehemiah took over as governor, he entered a big mess. The previous governors took advantage of the people for their own benefit. They overtaxed them so they could make more money. The assistants “lorded” over the people, meaning they were abusive. This sounds a lot like the modern politics in many governments. The people in leadership are often corrupt and abusive.
This is not only common amongst the world, but it also happens to believers who are successful as well. We saw this with King Solomon. He abused his leadership by overtaxing the people (cf. 1 Kings 12:4), which contributed to his great wealth. He abused his authority by taking many wives; he had a thousand wives and concubines combined (cf. 1 Kings 11:3).
Often in leadership, there are many doors for promiscuity. We see this with our successful athletes, businessmen, and politicians. King Solomon, though a godly, wise man, abused his authority and success. Sadly, this even happens to those in the pulpit. One survey of pastors said that around 40% admitted to having had an affair.[iii]
A person in leadership will always battle temptations to abuse their authority. To compound these temptations, a culture of abuse—a culture of corruption—often creates negative pressure to continue these compromises.
I remember working at a company where my boss would take vacation time and tell the employees to tell anyone who asked about him, that he was just out of the office. Therefore, he could have a day off without using his vacation. Each of our leaders would cover for one another so that they could enjoy extra vacation time. This became a corrupt culture, and, in order to set myself apart, I had to let them know I wouldn’t be part of it.
As a godly leader, when God promotes you, don’t be surprised if he calls you to take a stand and maybe even implement changes to the previous administration. Leadership does not always mean character. Often our leaders are people with major character flaws and many times God raises up new, godly leaders to bring change. We saw this with God raising up David when Saul became corrupt.
Nehemiah took the position and chose to not lead in the same way the previous leadership did. No doubt, this probably made him unpopular with the nobles and those serving in government beside him. All the assistants from the previous governors would have made less money, and then, probably, would have pressed Nehemiah to conform.
For many Christian students who enter the work force, they are often surprised to find a culture of sin including drunkenness and sexual immorality. Many work cultures not only tend to spend time in drunkenness but also in visiting with escorts. Many work cultures will frequent the bars and the brothels in the late hours. Sadly, in these cultures, cheating on one’s spouse has become the norm and is considered acceptable.
As one who has worked on college campuses, I can say with confidence that academic cheating is an epidemic. There is very little integrity on our college campuses. What do you think happens when graduates, who commonly cheated in college, go to the work force? When one is unfaithful with little, he will be unfaithful with much.
Don’t be surprised when God promotes you or you take a new job, only to find there is a need for reform. You will have to be willing to take a stand and say, “I’m not doing that” or “It won’t be done that way anymore.” This won’t make you popular. In fact, it will cause persecution, and it may cost you your job. But this is what you will have to do in order to be faithful to God.
A common temptation that comes with success is the tendency to abuse one’s authority. Nehemiah chose not to. Where others have failed, Nehemiah stood. He instead chose to clean up the government in Israel. God may choose to exalt you for the purpose of cleaning up the culture at a law firm, a business, a school, a church, or some other type of ministry. Oh yes, even churches commonly have an abusive culture as well, and it happens way too often. Some pastors seek to be the “King” of their church instead of its servant. It shouldn’t be this way.
In prosperity and promotion, we must be disciplined with our privileges, even letting some go. We also must not abuse our authority.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen abuses of authority and privileges in the work place? How can Christians remain faithful in an ungodly work culture?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Fear God
But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
Observation Question: Why did Nehemiah not misuse his privileges like the previous governors (v. 15)?
The text says that he didn’t misuse his power because he feared God. The reason many will fall while in leadership is because they fear man more than God.
We saw this with Saul who was previously exalted from nothing to being the king of Israel. God told Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and to even kill their animals. However, when the prophet Samuel showed up, he said, “Why do I hear the noise of sheep?” (1 Samuel 15:14, paraphrase). Saul replied, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15:24).
Why did Saul fail as a leader? He failed because he feared people more than God. Scripture says the “fear of man is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).
It was the same with the priest Aaron while in the wilderness with Israel. Moses was up on the mountain with God receiving the Ten Commandments, and in the valley, the people pressured Aaron to build a golden calf, and so he did (Ex 32). Aaron sinned because he feared man more than God.
Many, because of desire to be promoted or to have favor with a boss, peers, or friends, will sin because they fear man more than God. King Solomon probably experienced this as well, since he said it was a trap or a snare. Be careful of it.
A Christian leader will often be confronted with these temptations to fear man more than God and to love the world and the things of the world more than God. What made Nehemiah successful was his great fear and reverence of God. Listen to what Jesus told his disciples:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to fear God?
To fear God means to reverence him, to stand in awe of God’s greatness and power, but it also means much more than that. It means to fear his judgment. Scripture says our God is a consuming fire (cf. Heb 12:29). It says in Hebrews 12:6, “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” He struck Ananias and Sapphira for lying in Acts 5. He brought sickness and death to those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. First John 5:16 talks about the sin unto death. Oh yes, it is a dangerous thing for a child of God to live in rebellion.
Many people only have a conception of God’s love, and they know nothing of fearing God’s wrath. His wrath is an outpouring of his love; he loves us too much to allow us to live in outright rebellion.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Many people don’t live godly lives, especially when the temptation of prosperity comes because they don’t fear him. I think sometimes our churches have handicapped our congregations by focusing only on God’s love, his forgiveness, and missing his holiness and his wrath.
Do you fear God? It will keep you out of much sin.
Application Question: How does the fear of God affect you? How do we develop a healthy fear of God?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Be Fully Devoted to the Work of God
But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work
What else did Nehemiah do to protect himself from the dangers that come with prosperity?
Nehemiah devoted himself to doing the work of God—he served God and the people. He focused his attention on what God had called him to do—building the wall. Often in prosperity, we are tempted to serve ourselves instead of God. People commonly become career or success focused, instead of God and others focused.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Make the most of every opportunity, why? Because the days are evil, there is a tendency to fall into sin and neglect God. Nehemiah practiced this. Instead of getting involved with the sins of the previous administration, he made the most of his opportunity. He got busy. Staying busy serving God will be a protection from the tendency to sin, whether in prosperity or in trial.
Prosperity, though it comes with many temptations, should be a time of great zeal for the Lord. God prospers us so that we can have more influence for his name. He gives us a job, a leadership position, an opportunity to increase our knowledge through schooling, all for the purpose of serving him more. Listen to what Paul said: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
What has God called you to do in the current situation he has placed you? What is the work he wants you to be fully devoted to?
Nehemiah was building a wall to protect the people of Israel. Sometimes God places us at a school, a job, or a ministry to build a wall around others through constant prayer. Sometimes the work he has called us to is to build ourselves up. Sometimes he gives us extra time—extra freedom—so it can be used to study his Word, pray, and grow through serving. What is the work God is calling you to be fully devoted to?
Application Question: What opportunities for his kingdom has God placed before you? How can you make the most of it and be fully devoted in your service?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Be Generous and Hospitable
Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
What else should we practice in order to protect ourselves when God opens the door for prosperity or promotion? Consider what Nehemiah 5:17 says: “Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.”
One thing that must stand out, along with this, is that Nehemiah said he didn’t use the governor’s food allowance (v. 18) and, yet, still fed 150 Jews and officials, plus those from the surrounding nations. How did he do this? He must have paid for it out of his own pocket. He generously served others.
This is another discipline we must practice while in prosperity. Nehemiah protected himself from abusing his prosperity by being extremely generous. He fed 150 plus people out of his own pocket every day. That gives us an idea of how much God prospered him as the governor of Israel. Instead of using his prosperity to serve himself, he served others. Nehemiah was a channel of God’s blessing instead of a reservoir.
Similarly, we protect ourselves from the temptations that come with prosperity by sharing and being generous as well. In fact, Scripture commands those who have wealth to share. Look at what Paul says:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Being generous is one of the ways that we must deal with prosperity. Paul told Timothy to tell the rich to be generous and willing to share so that they may be rewarded in heaven. It should be noted that Paul says this right after telling Timothy how the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and how many have fallen away from the faith because of it. First Timothy 6:9-10 says,
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
What’s the remedy for this ever present temptation of loving money and wealth?
One of the remedies is to give it away—to be generous. When money and prosperity has its grip on you, sharing will help remedy it and do wonders for your spiritual life. Jesus similarly told the rich man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor (Matt 19). Being generous will help protect us from the temptations and traps of prosperity.
It should also be noted that when Paul told Timothy the character of those selected for eldership in the church, he says that they must be “hospitable” in 1 Timothy 3:2. “Hospitable” means “a lover of strangers.” Godly leaders should be characterized by loving people, not just family and friends, but even people they have just recently met.
He essentially says to Timothy, “You can tell if these potential elders can handle promotion by their practice of hospitality—if they are a lover of strangers.”
Do you love strangers? Do you open your home and offer your resources to others? If you are faithful with little, you will be faithful with much. This will protect you from many temptations.
Most Christians live like the world when they experience increase. God gives them a raise, and what do they do? They say, “All for me! I’m going to get a new car, a bigger house, and buy the newest computer and the newest phone!” They don’t realize that God gives to us so that we can be a channel of his blessings to others. We are already commanded in Matthew 6:19-20 to not store up riches on the earth. For that reason, our homes and possessions should look drastically different from the world since we have a command to not store up. Why store it up only to leave it behind? We should use our wealth to build God’s kingdom.
Are you practicing generosity? It will prepare you for promotion, and it will also help to keep you holy when God does promote you.
Application Question: In what ways does being generous protect us from the temptations of loving money and abusing our prosperity? How has the practice of hospitality been a blessing to you? In what ways is God calling you to be more generous?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Pray
Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
Probably, the greatest protection one can have to stay faithful in prosperity and promotion is a vibrant prayer life. We see the cry of Nehemiah’s heart while serving as governor. He, no doubt, lived in prayer in order to both be protected and to be successful in his ministry.
Again, prayer is a major theme of the book. Nehemiah prays eleven times throughout the book, and here, he prays again. Prayer is an act of dependence upon God. Wealth has a tendency to make us trust in our riches instead of God. Prayer is the opposite. To pray is to recognize our weakness and need for God.
In fact, it must be noted, that wealth and prosperity are often a deterrent to prayer. Most people pray when things are bad and forget to pray when things are good. Some even forget God all together. This is a natural, sinful, human tendency. However, we see this was not true of Nehemiah. Even while wealthy, he was living in dependence upon God, as he lived in prayer. It must be the same for us.
The practice of prayer will help keep us from pride, independence, and many of the temptations that come with promotion. We never see Nehemiah asking for prayer, but we can have no doubt that his spiritual brother, Ezra, and others were constantly lifting him up. We should ask for prayer while in leadership. As leaders, we will be the target of many attacks, and we need divine protection and strength during those attacks.
This was also a characteristic of Paul’s life; he was constantly praying. At the beginning of most of his letters, he detailed how he prayed for the congregation (cf. Rom 1:9, Col 1:3, Phil 1:3-4). However, we also see him commonly ask for prayer as well (cf. Col 4:3-4, Eph 6:19-20). As godly leaders, we must similarly live in prayer and constantly ask for prayer.
Application Question: Why is prayer so important? How do you try to maintain a vibrant prayer life? How often do you ask for prayer?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Pursue the Favor and Reward of God
Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
Finally, one of the protections against the temptations of prosperity is seeking the reward of God. No doubt, Nehemiah was not primarily looking for earthly reward in Nehemiah 5:15, but he was probably looking for reward in heaven.
The Mosaic Law did promise that those who were obedient would receive great blessing on the earth (cf. Deut 28). They would receive either a blessing or a curse based on their faithfulness to God. Therefore, he probably did feel that God would bless him on the earth, but Jews also had an understanding of heaven and heavenly reward. Hebrews 11:8-10 says this:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
As the church, our promises are not primarily earthly but heavenly. Most of the New Testament promises are spiritual, including every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph 1:3). Jesus said, “Don’t store up riches on earth but riches in heaven” (Matt 6:19, paraphrase). He gave this as a motivation for holiness and service on the earth. He gave the motivation of treasures in heaven.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Christ said when we store up riches in heaven that is where our hearts will be. Nehemiah’s heart was not on the earth. It wasn’t about a new house, a new chariot, a new farm, a new promotion, etc. His focus and primary concern was the reward in heaven and that enabled him to handle prosperity well. He cried out to God to “remember” him.
Many Christians can’t handle promotion because their heart is secular and worldly. It is all about what they can have here; it is about their comfort here. It is about being recognized here and not in heaven. That’s why they don’t handle promotions well, and for that matter, they don’t handle trials well either. When your heart is in heaven, it will allow for you to receive grace to live faithfully here on earth.
Nehemiah said, “Lord remember me.” This is one of the things that protected Nehemiah. His focus was on the favor of God and not man or money. This will protect us as well from the dangers of prosperity.
Application Question: How can we live a life with an eye towards storing up reward in heaven? What does that mean and look like? Is it selfish to pursue heavenly rewards?
How should we deal with prosperity and promotion? We learn many things from looking at Nehemiah who was promoted to the position of governor while serving Israel.
Godly leaders must be willing to consider accepting opportunities for prosperity and promotion.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must at times give up their rights in order to not hinder the work of God.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must avoid abusing their authority and also be willing to bring reform.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must fear God.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must be fully devoted to the work of the Lord.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must be generous and hospitable.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must pray.
In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must seek the favor and reward of God.